While the 29 point loss to Golden State on Friday night is a major blight on an otherwise surprisingly good season by the Phoenix Suns, every other Western Conference playoff contender has at least one stinker this season too.
The Phoenix Suns lost in big fashion on Friday night, by 29 points to the Golden State Warriors. After entering the season with what was widely regarding as some of the worst talent in the NBA only to surprise the league with a 17-10 record through Christmas, some might think the 29-point loss is a harbinger of bad things to come.
But if you look at the schedule across the league, most importantly in the West, you'll see a lot of blowouts up and down the line. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said last week in Phoenix that, since the new CBA, there's a lot more turnover, less depth and, as a result, occasional lopsided wins and losses by every team in the league.
Let's look at the worst losses so far by the other Western Conference playoff contenders, in order of their current conference seeding:
While the Suns have the second worst loss now among Western playoff contenders, only the LA Clippers have not lost by at least 15 points so far this season.
The Phoenix Suns have already beaten four of the other top seeds in the West, going 5-5 overall even including last night's stinker.
Over the first 28 games, the Suns have played the league's 6th toughest schedule to date. Only five teams have played a harder schedule, based on their opponents current collective records.
And, even after that 29 point loss to Golden State, the Suns are still 10th in ESPN's (Hollinger's) automated daily Power Rankings based on statistical analysis focusing strength of schedule, performance in last 10 games and overall offensive and defensive efficiency.
Sure, last night's loss might be a harbinger of bad things to come. But the odds are in favor of last night being an aberration. Golden State is a good team, was shooting very well, and playing in front of their home crowd.
The Suns came out flat from the opening tip, struggling to hit shots from everywhere on the court and not putting up much of a fight defensively. The Splash Brothers definitely won the battle of the backcourts as Stephen Curry starred with a triple double, while the Suns only had one player in double figures in scoring. The Warriors shot 52.9 percent from the field and hit eight 3-pointers, while the Suns shot 36 percent with four 3-pointers. That right there pretty much tells you everything you need to know.
The two teams went back and forth early on. The Suns were scoring points, but the defense continued to be a problem as Golden State got far too many easy looks. Two of the best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA combined to go 1-11 from deep in the quarter, but the Warriors scored 18 points in the paint and jumped ahead 28-22 by the end of the first period.
Eric Bledsoe, who scored five points in the first but struggled both defensively and offensively in the first quarter, picked up his third foul early in the second and had to take a seat with zero assists and three turnovers.
The second quarter was nearly identical to the second, with the Warriors getting every shot they wanted and the Suns struggling to convert anything. Steph Curry was doing some of everything for the Warriors, finishing the half with a near triple-double with 14 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
P.J. Tucker played hard and pulled down six boards in the first quarter, while Miles Plumlee snagged five himself in the second. The two combined for 12 points and 14 rebounds as one of the few bright spots for the Suns.
Splash Brothers Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 25, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, while the Suns' Slash Borthers of Goran Dragic and Bledsoe had 13, one and one. The match-up, which was so competitive and so thrilling in the previous meeting, was dominated from the start by the Golden State backcourt and was over by halftime.
Little changed after halftime, as the Warriors continued to roll and the Suns continued to sputter. Curry completed his triple-double two minutes into the quarter and continued to rack up numbers. The 3-ball began to fall for the Warriors (6-9 in the second half) but not for the Suns, and the Suns' offense completely devolved into isolation play. The lead swelled to 29 at one point, and Jeff Hornacek waived the white flag a couple minutes into the fourth by sending out an Ish Smith, Dionte Christmas, Archie Goodwin, Gerald Green and Slava Kravtsov line-up.
Smith gave the team a bit of a spark by getting to the basket and scoring, finishing with eight points, three rebounds and two assists, but even the Warriors bench group outplayed the Suns and the final margin was 29.
FINAL: Ws 115, #Suns 86. Most points surrendered, least points scored, worst deficit (29), worst loss (29), worst shooting (36%) this season— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) December 28, 2013
That's all I've got Suns fans. Let's wipe this game from our memories and move on to the 76ers. These are the times when a back-to-back is a good thing. I'm sure the Suns are happy to get right back out there as soon as possible to make up for this mess of a performance.
Christmas has come and gone, but we are still in the midst of the holiday season. And what is the holiday season other than a time of giving (and receiving)?
The Suns under General Manager Ryan McDonough have been in an especially giving mood. Since he's taken over, the Suns have given away, in one form or another, 10 players from the 2012-13 roster. Some of these players were let go after their contracts expired, some of them were cut and some of them were traded.
How are these players doing? Well, most of them are doing pretty well.
McDonough's first big move was giving away Jared Dudley, a Suns fan-favorite who had done a lot for the team since arriving in the Valley, along with a second round pick. The Clippers got Dudley, who - along with J.J. Redick who they acquired from Milwaukee in the deal - was meant to upgrade the perimeter shooting of the team and provide all-important floor spacing.
However, things haven't gone quite as the Clippers had hoped. Redick has missed a lot of time with an injury, Dudley has been struggling with his shot and the Clippers are only up one game in the loss column on the upstart Suns.
Dudley is averaging 8.7 points on 43.9 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from 3-point land and 70.3 percent from the free-throw line on the season, and his numbers across the board have been about as low as they have been in his career. Even Dudley himself admitted how much he was struggling on Twitter.
I just have to apologize to all clipper fans by my play this season! I been playing like s****. It's been downright embarrassing!— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) December 13, 2013
I will continue to stay in the gym and make the necessary adjustments.. I will play better, just going through a tough stretch.— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) December 13, 2013
Well, to Dudley's credit, he has been true to his word. In the seven games since his apology, Dudley is averaging 11.1 points on 49.2 percent from the field, 42.4 percent from deep and 80 percent from the line with three rebounds and 1.1 steals per game and is sporting an 11-6 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Dudley is a good player, and good players help teams win. Redick will get healthy, Dudley will continue to rediscover his shooting touch and the Clippers are going to be a playoff team. Despite the early returns, this was a good gift from the Suns to the Clippers.
The Wizards' shiny new toy has been huge for them this season. Gortat is averaging 12.8 points and 9.0 rebounds and is second only to John Wall on the team in on/off court differential. Even more importantly for an injury-wracked squad, Gortat is the only player on the team other than Wall who has played in all 25 games this year.
The Wizards wanted to make the playoffs this year, and to do that they knew they needed a center. McDonough was generous enough to help them out, and now the Wizards are sitting in the sixth spot in the (awful, awful) Eastern Conference.
McDonough also sent Kendall Marshall and Shannon Brown to the Warriors, but he had the foresight to send the receipts with in case the Wizards - who already had a full roster - wanted to return them. And return them they did, as both players were cut immediately after the deal went down. Brown has yet to find a team, but Kendall Marshall recently got picked up by the Los Angeles Lakers. He has appeared in two games for the Lakers and is putting up terrific numbers with 10.8 points, 0.0 assists and 14.4 turnovers per 36 minutes.
Luis Scola had a productive 2012-13 season for the Suns after the team picked him up off the amnesty waiver wire, but there really wasn't any reason for him to stick around for this season. So McDonough regifted him to a team that needed him more: the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers featured a strong starting five a year ago, but their bench was exposed in the playoffs. Scola, along with C.J. Watson, were brought in to give them a little more punch off the pine, and Scola has been terrific in that role.
Scola is averaging 8.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18 minutes per game. In fact, per 36 he is posting nearly identical numbers as he did last year with the Suns. The difference is he's doing it much more efficiently, as he is shooting 53.3 percent from the field.
The Pacers have the best record in the Eastern conference at this point in the season, and Scola has been a big part of that. McDonough got them exactly what they wanted.
The remaining players weren't nearly as expensive or significant. In fact, they were more gag gifts than anything. However, some of them actually worked out.
Hamed Haddadi was given away to some basketball team not in the NBA. Diante Garrett was given away and later picked up by the Utah Jazz, where he has been pretty much the same player as he was with the Suns (capable of putting up some points and assists but struggling to make shots. After a year with the Phoenix training staff to revitalize his career, Jermaine O'Neal was given away to a team poised to make a playoff run in the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately for them, Phoenix didn't send Aaron Nelson along with him and he's been hurt most of the year.
Wesley Johnson was picked up by the Los Angeles Lakers after the Suns let him go. He's still doing Wesley Johnson things, but he's at least been doing them a little bit better. Finally, Ryan McDonough gave himself, the organization and the entire fan base a present by cutting Michael Beasley, Surprisingly, Beasley has been a fairly useful player for the Heat this season.
Ryan McDonough has been awfully generous this season, and good things come to those that do good by others. Fr everything he's given, he's gotten something of equal or greater value back. Eric Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and a couple draft picks turned out to be a pretty nice haul, and it's paying off in a big way for the Suns.
Ryan McDonough has showed a great propensity for working out trades that benefit everyone involved, and that bodes well for the future as the Suns continue to get better and better.
Merry Christmas every one. The holiday season truly is one of the best times of the year.